Its No Task for the Taskers

The Driller – September 1958

New Hampshire’s Elmer and Murray Tasker claim it’s no chore at all to find plenty of work for their four Bucyrus-Erie 22-Ws.

The chill, early Fall air seemed to snap with a characteristic New England crispness as Murray Tasker sped his shiny new Mercury northward over the winding roads of mountainous central New Hampshire. He had just left Northwood Narrows, NH, where he and his brother, Elmer, operate Taskers Artesian Well Contractors, a water well drilling firm they started back in 1947. His destination: Conway, NH, a small town located around 50 miles north of Northwood Narrows in the White Mountains, a well-known winter ski resort area.

Elmer’s wife, Edith, who does all the firm’s book work, had driven 38 year-old Elmer up to Conway earlier that morning. He had gone up to help driller Ken Dyer and helper Harley Florence move one of the firm’s four Bucyrus-Erie 22-W drills to a new location from a job it had just completed at Snow Village Lodge, a resort situated high up in the mountains near Conway.

Murray Tasker, 32, wasn’t sure where Elmer and the other two men planned to set up the 22-W after tearing down at the lodge, so he hoped to arrive there before they made their departure.

“I don’t know how Elmer can keep up the pace he sets for himself,” Murray mused as he directed his car up and down one sharp incline after another. “He works from sun up ’til sundown, day in and day out; never seems to be able to take a break. He generally helps the boys tear down, move and get set up on a new job, then races across country to another rig to do the same thing all over again. He’s always on the go.”

After encountering considerable difficulty in finding it, Murray finally pulled his car to a halt before the lodge, only to find that Elmer and the boys had already moved on to their next location. They had left word where they were headed, however, so finding them was a simple matter.

Elmer and his crew had just pulled into the driveway of a new home set on a heavily wooded plot of rugged terrain on the opposite side of Conway when Murray arrived. Elmer was already scanning the grounds to select the most suitable spot for setting up the 22-W. He finally settled on a spot several feet from the house. A cheery grin covered his weather-bronzed face when he spied Murray’s car. The two chatted for several minutes about the job just completed and about the estimated length of time required to finish the well they were just starting. Then Murray hopped into his car and was off to visit another job.

Elmer, again sporting his likeable grin, shook his head as he watched his brother disappear down the rough gravel road. “Murray just can’t stay put for a minute,” he chuckled. “He works day and night contacting customers, making sales, handling all the complaints, collections and what have you. I’m afraid I wouldn’t last a week doing that sort of work. I have to be doing something outside, with my hands, either drilling, setting up, or tearing down.” With that, he bent his short, stocky frame over to help place blocking under the machine. He estimated that the well they would drill here would be finished in gravel, at 90 or 100 feet.

This arrangement with Murray handling the business details of their work and Elmer supervising activities in the field, seems to be working out very well for the Taskers. They keep their four Bucyrus-Erie 22-Ws busy full-time, drilling domestic wells within a 100-mi. radius of Northwood Narrows.

Drills on Four Different Make Trucks

The 22-Ws are mounted on four different makes of trucks: one of them is on a 1946, 2-ton Chevrolet; another is mounted on a 1949 F-6 Ford; a third is on a 1953, 2-ton Dodge truck; and the fourth is set on a 195 1, 2-ton GMC. All the drills are powered by Hercules engines. They are spooled with Jones and Laughlin wire ropes; ?-in. diameter is used for the drill line, ?-in. on the calf reel and 3/8-in. for bailer line.

Among the trucks the firm uses for hauling equipment and general service work are: a 1956 1-ton International; a 1954 GMC pickup; a 1953 Ford F-6; and two 1957, four-wheel-drive, International 3/4-ton pickups. Both Murray and Elmer are against the practice of purchasing secondhand equipment of any sort. They feel that, when drillers or other workers are given new equipment to work with, they’ll conscientiously try to keep that equipment in tip-top shape. The men are more inclined to take pride in the work they’re doing, too.

The drills, trucks and other equipment, including a Worthington 205-cfm air compressor are serviced in a 35×45-ft. frame building located at the firm’s headquarters in Northwood Narrows. The shop is completely equipped with all necessary tools to handle most repair jobs. Parts are kept in neatly compartmented bins lined up along one side of the shop. Behind the building is a gin pole, which proves most handy for loading and unloading pipe and other equipment. A stock of at least 2,000 feet of steel casing is kept on hand at all times; the 8-in. casing is 25-lb. test, the 6-in., 19-lb. test. One man is kept busy in the shop taking care of the repair and maintenance work and running errands with one of the pickups.

Well Depths Average 100-150 Feet

Wells drilled by the Taskers usually bottom at average depths of between 100 and 150 feet, but it is occasionally found necessary to drill deeper to hit adequate water supplies. A well Elmer drilled with one of the 22-Ws for a home in Franconia, located in northern New Hampshire, bottomed at 586 feet. He hit granite rock at 30 feet and drilled through it right to the 586-ft. completion depth. The well, which required six weeks for completion, produced a scant three gpm. Several years later, the firm drilled another well on the same property to a final depth of 286 feet. This one produced nine gpm. Most of the firm’s wells are six inches in diameter, although an occasional larger-diameter well is drilled.

Murray described the ground formations encountered in the area covered by the company: “With the hilly and mountainous country around here, it’s next to impossible to predict what you’re likely to run into once you start drilling. Sometimes we’ll drill through only 10 feet of overburden, then hit rock ledge. In comparison with this, Elmer drilled a well not too long ago where he went down 480 feet before running into rock. We have quite a bit of trouble running into boulders in this area, too.”

The Taskers always use drive shoes when driving pipe. Murray explained, “When we first started drilling, we never bothered to use drive shoes. We felt that they were just some more unnecessary contrivances that really didn’t accomplish a great deal. But we had so much trouble with pipe crimping or bending, especially if we were driving past boulders, that we decided to try drive shoes after all. Now we’re completely sold on them and never drive an inch of pipe without one. As far as we’re concerned, they’re real time and money savers.”

Started in Business with 33-W

The first rig owned by the Taskers when they entered the drilling business in 1947 was a Bucyrus-Armstrong 33-W, which they sold in 1952. Murray described one well they drilled with this rig: “The well was drilled for a home near Suncook, NH. We drilled down to 140 feet, where we hit rock ledge. Then we set 160 feet of 6-in. casing and continued drilling down to 310 feet, where we hit a good supply of water. The story doesn’t end there, however. Some time later, the state contracted to straighten State Hwy. 28, which ran by near the well. After they had done some blasting and pile driving in the process of constructing the highway, the well, for some reason or other, went bone dry.

“The state agreed to pay for the re-drilling of the well, so we were called back, this time with one of the 22-Ws. We set our machine up over the old well and drilled down to around 580 feet, but we didn’t get any water, or maybe 3/4 gpm at the very most. Then we tried perforating the casing at around 85 feet. That did the trick; after perforating, the well produced over 10 gpm. The water came to within 20 feet of the top.”

A small house trailer accompanies each of the drills to job locations. Drillers stay in them overnight when working at locations too distant to permit driving to their homes each day. The trailers are furnished with bunks, small stoves, etc. to provide the drillers with maximum comfort.

The Taskers’ drillers generally work a 5-day week, but during busy periods they work six days per week. They are paid on a footage basis, the rate of pay depending on such factors as the ground conditions expected to be encountered, diameter of the well being drilled, etc.

The winters in New Hampshire are bitter cold, with temperatures sometimes dropping to an unfriendly -30′. At times like this, when the drillers are unable to continue drilling, and when an occasional slack period presents itself, the drillers work in the shop, painting their rigs and making repairs that can’t be taken care of in the field.

Elmer Tasker, speaking for himself and Murray, praised the drillers employed by their firm: “All of our men really know their business; they are able to handle just about any problem that is likely to arise while they’re drilling. Each is assigned to his own rig and is held responsible for keeping it in good condition. We never have any trouble with rigs becoming damaged or unnecessarily worn out because of improper care. We prefer to train the drillers ourselves, rather than hire experienced men.

“As a matter of fact,” he continued, “we’ve started, indirectly at least, a number of men in business for themselves. We’d hire perfectly green men, and train them from the ground up, making capable drillers out of them. Every now and then one of them buys a rig of his own and starts drilling for himself. As a result, some of our former drillers are now our competitors.”

Recalling one well drilled by the firm, Murray chuckled, “We’ve had some quite prominent people for our customers. Quite some time ago, for example, we were called on to drill a well for a summer home up near Sugar Hill (northern New Hampshire). It turned out that the home belonged to movie actress Bette Davis. We dealt directly with Bette, she signed the contract and everything. The well we drilled for her ended up at 430 feet, producing something like 20 or 25 gpm.”

The Taskers claim to average about 4,500 feet of hole per year with each of their four 22-Ws. They charge customers for wells on a footage basis. On gravel wells, however, a definite contract price for the finished well is agreed upon in advance. The firm estimates, however, that it drills only six or seven gravel wells in the course of each year.

The fastest drilling job ever completed by the Taskers was a 244-ft., 6-in. well Murray drilled for a parsonage in the town of Northwood. Hitting blue shale at 20 feet, he drilled through this to the 244-ft. completion depth in five 10-hr. workdays. this included moving in, setting up and moving out. Commenting on the relative speed with which this well was completed, Murray smiled, “We don’t always turn in that sort of production record, unfortunately. All in all, though, it’s not uncommon for our men to drill 50 feet in one day.”

The greatest flow to be derived from a Tasker-drilled well, 100 gpm, was obtained from one Elmer drilled for the New England Box Co. in Madison, NH, in 1954. It was a gravel well, drilled at 6-in. diameter to a depth of 60 feet. The well was set with six feet of Johnson screen.

When Elmer and Murray decided to enter the drilling business in July 1947, only Murray, who had been working as a driller for another contractor for some time, had any experience. Elmer had been working as a mechanic in a garage. When they purchased their Bucyrus-Armstrong 33-W they didn’t have a single job lined up for it. They were well known in the Northwood Narrows area, however, and soon received requests to drill several wells. Then they hit a slack period during which there was no work for themselves or their newly acquired drill. They considered going into the woods to chop lumber to supplement their income. Then things began to pick up and they received one well job after another. In February 1948, they purchased their first Bucyrus-Erie 22-W.

Reflecting back on their early days, Murray stated, “Business has been very good ever since we started, except for that temporary slack period few months. We’ve been able to keep our four rigs drilling steadily, and if we were able to find enough help, could keep ten of them on the go.” In addition to the advertising they place in the small local newspapers and in the classified sections of phone directories in their area, the Taskers give away advertising novelties, thermometers, etc. to their customers. They feel that advertising of this sort plays an important role in keeping themselves and their equipment busy. When asked about any difficult fishing jobs they had encountered, Elmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sure, we’ve had some pretty tough ones, but never once have we had to give up on a job. I’ll swear by the friction socket for getting lost tools out of the hole. A lot of drillers prefer the slip socket. They claim those first friction sockets will slip off the tools too often, but I’ve never had any trouble on that score. ¬†We’ve never had to give up on a well we were drilling to say it couldn’t be completed,” he continued. “As far as I’m concerned, anyone who can’t finish drilling a water well with a spudder just isn’t a well driller.” And judging from the way their business has grown in a little over a decade, and from the number of wells they’ve drilled during that time, the Taskers and their men can be considered well drillers in every sense of the word.